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February 22, 2024

Biden Administration Relists Houthis as Foreign Terrorist Organization

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Jan 17, 2024

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it will redesignate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), reversing a 2021 decision to remove them from the list. The move comes after recent Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, which the US says threatens global trade and regional security.

Background on the Conflict

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital Sana’a and ousted the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in 2015 on behalf of the government. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Houthis have engaged in cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and launched missile and drone strikes on civilian areas and infrastructure over the years. The United States has provided intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi coalition.

In late 2020, the Trump administration designated the Houthis as an FTO, aiming to increase pressure on the group. However, the Biden administration revoked the designation in 2021 over humanitarian concerns that it would impede aid delivery to Houthi-held areas where millions face starvation.

Escalating Houthi Attacks Prompt Policy Reversal

According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the recent Houthi attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea represent a serious threat to the global economy and necessitated relisting the group.

“The threat posed by the Houthi attacks justified returning the group back to the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations,” Blinken said in a press statement.

Over the past several weeks, the Houthis have launched missiles, drones, and remote-controlled boats rigged with explosives at ships in the Red Sea. These busy shipping lanes are crucial conduits for oil exports and other vital goods.

Several attacks have been thwarted, but strikes on January 6 damaged a Turkish cargo ship. Additional assaults took place on January 9 and 15, endangering crews and demonstrating the Houthis’ ability to disrupt critical trade routes.

The US and allied navies have intercepted several remote-controlled boats targeting commercial tankers in recent days. But officials warn more serious attacks could be on the horizon.

Consequences of the Designation

By labeling the Houthis an international terrorist group, the US aims to isolate them financially and diplomatically. It also clears the way for criminal prosecution of supporters.

Analysts say the designation will curtail the Houthis’ sources of funding and weapons procurement while pressuring the group to halt its aggression.

However, aid groups have raised concerns about the move, saying it could negatively impact humanitarian relief efforts and commercial imports to Yemen. Licenses will be granted to allow aid to continue flowing, but there is uncertainty about trade ramifications.

The Biden administration says it will work to mitigate civilian impacts, but insists deterring Houthi attacks took priority given the global disruption threatened by Red Sea shipping lane assaults.

Officials also emphasized this could pressure the Houthis toward a mediated peace agreement to end Yemen’s eight-year conflict.

International Support and Opposition

The redesignation has garnered praise from Gulf allies who are threatened by Houthi cross-border strikes. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates endorsed the move, urging further efforts to hold the rebels accountable and end Iranian interference in Yemen.

Congressional Republicans also applauded the reversal in policy after criticizing Biden’s earlier decision to remove the FTO status.

“The Houthis have only been emboldened by Biden’s weakness and incoherent Yemen policy,” said Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK).

However, some humanitarian groups reiterated worries about hindering aid and commercial access, despite US vows to mitigate fallout.

There are also questions about the timing as the designation announcement came just before Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia next month. Some analysts believe the policy shift aims to appease allies the administration hopes to strengthen ties with in the region.

Outlook Going Forward

Administration officials have warned more Houthi maritime attacks are likely as the group tests the US and its partners. Whether the terrorist relisting will deter or provoke the rebels remains unclear.

There is also skepticism about whether the designation will compel the Houthis toward a peace deal after years of stalled UN-led talks. With Iranian backing, the militants may be undeterred and escalate attacks after an initial lull.

Much depends on finding effective deterrents through Gulf naval coalitions or further US engagement while working to avoid humanitarian fallout.

In Yemen, the war’s end seems distant as conditions deteriorate. But US officials insist the Houthi terrorist label will refocus international pressure on the group while opening space for a political solution.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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